The Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy initiative tells the stories of the U.S. Department of State’s modern-day heroes among us and heroes from throughout our rich history. The following modern-day selectees were nominated by U.S. diplomatic missions overseas and domestic bureaus, and selected by a Steering Committee comprised of senior Department officials.
Foreign Service Officer (ret.)
Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy initiative is pleased to honor William Rowland as a Hero of U.S. Diplomacy for his extraordinary commitment to the safety of American citizens abroad in the midst of a severe security threat at the U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville, Congo in June of 1997. William was on his first tour with the Department as a Political and Economic Officer when he volunteered to go above and beyond his responsibilities, repeatedly risking his life, and showing intellectual, and physical courage, in order to bring private U.S. citizens and other Foreign Service Officers and embassy staff to safety at the outset of violence and civil war in Congo. During the course of one week he personally evacuated two groups of U.S. citizens on flights out of Brazzaville and rescued a colleague detained behind rebel lines.
Prior to the events of June 1997, William Rowland worked as an Entry-Level Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville, providing a full suite of consular services and later covering political and economic developments, including the run-up to anticipated national elections.
When fighting broke out between those aligned with the president and the opposition leader, William maintained calm under pressure. He displayed courage despite being caught in the crossfire between the Cobra militia and government troops and continued to work to support American citizen evacuations. When the U.S. ambassador called for a volunteer to retrieve two fellow colleagues caught behind rebel lines, William volunteered and navigated the treacherous journey alone and unarmed in order to successfully rescue his colleagues.
Again, remaining calm and cool-headed despite setbacks that rendered earlier evacuation plans untenable, William employed his cultural diplomacy, language skills, problem-solving and negotiation skills in order to persuade a Ukrainian salvage team on an old Russian plane to give him and the remaining Americans safe passage out of the war zone. He evacuated with only a change of clothes, his camera and his passport and later learned that his residence, along with his possessions and vehicle, in Brazzaville had been severely damaged by shelling. Despite his experiences under fire and losing all of his personal property during the rapid evacuation, William continued on to serve twenty-five years as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State in seven other postings around the world. William retired from the Department in July 2020.
Video Archive – Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy Honors William Rowland (09/29/2020):
Civil Service Officer
Robert “Bob” Hopkins is the Associate Regional Director for Client Services in the Department of State’s Office of Foreign Mission’s (OFM) Houston Regional Office. In this role, Bob regularly supports disaster preparedness, resilience building, and outreach with hundreds of foreign consulates and international organizations.
Bob is being recognized as a Hero of U.S. Diplomacy for bravely leading rescue missions at several foreign consulates in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, as well as the invaluable role he’s played during multiple large-scale crises, where he liaises with local authorities, disaster response, foreign national victims and foreign consulates. Bob in one instance took to a boat in the floodwaters to rescue stranded diplomats.
Because of his extensive international disaster and first responder expertise, OFM deployed Bob to New Orleans and Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to be part of the 13-person “State South” Command Center. After Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Bob and OFM’s Houston Regional Office were uniquely positioned to offer front-line support in assisting all international aspects of disaster relief. Prepared to continue to serve despite the devastation, Bob slept in his government-issued vehicle and alternated “short sleeping shifts” at a police academy with a local police cadet, while leading rescue, recovery and communication operations related to foreign nationals. As part of the Department of State-wide domestic emergency response, Bob and the team liaised with foreign consular officers to help identify missing, injured and deceased foreigners, coordinate multiple excursions into New Orleans and Mississippi and provide disaster condition updates and daily briefings with foreign delegations. Amidst dangerous conditions, he worked with the Spanish Embassy, the Louisiana National Guard and the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security team to rescue a Spanish parliamentarian and her family from the New Orleans Convention Center.
More broadly, Bob serves as the crucial link between foreign missions, local law enforcement, FEMA, the American Red Cross, and social services. Prior to working for the Department of State domestically, he worked at five U.S. Embassies overseas and amassed 25+ years of international programs management expertise. He previously served in the U.S. Navy and gained experience in the private sector as the CEO of the largest private security corporation in Central America, providing external security for the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa and other organizations.
Learn more about Bob’s story and OFM here:
- Office of Foreign Missions
- C-SPAN video featuring Ambassador Joe Sullivan on the Department of State’s Hurricane Katrina relief efforts (2:46-12:00)
- Voice of America archive: “Rice: US Will Help Countries Locate Missing Citizens”
- ShareAmerica article: “Diplomat honored as Katrina hero”
Video Archive – “How a Hero of U.S. Diplomacy Supported the Department’s Post-Disaster Response” (11/20/19):
Information Management Officer
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Slater is a Foreign Service Specialist and incoming Dean of the School of Applied Information Technology at the Foreign Service Institute. Lizzie has worked at the State Department in a variety of capacities: first as a Locally Employed Staff member in 1980, then as an Eligible Family Member, as a Foreign Service Secretary, and finally as a Foreign Service IT Specialist in 1998. Her career has taken her to Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Mauritius, Washington, Thailand, Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia, and Egypt. For her first tour, Lizzie was deployed to Dar es Salaam on August 6, 1998. On her second day, the U.S. Embassy was bombed as part of the 1998 terrorist attacks in Tanzania and Kenya. When the blast went off, Lizzie was in a colleague’s office in the front part of the embassy building, a mere 50 feet from the detonation. Despite being injured in the bombing, Lizzie stayed on to reconstruct an operating embassy and its communication systems, to ensure that the post had communications back to Washington. Soon after, she transferred to the other bombsite at U.S. Embassy Nairobi to do the same work there. Lizzie’s service and actions in the face of adversity and during this defining moment in diplomatic history show her as a true champion and Hero of U.S. Diplomacy.
Learn more about Lizzie’s story and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya:
- U.S. Department of State’s DipNote blog post: “My Journey to Being Recognized as a ‘Hero of U.S. Diplomacy'”
- Foreign Service Journal July/August 2019 article: “Reflections on the U.S. Embassy Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania”
- C-SPAN segment on the U.S. Diplomacy Center’s East Africa Bombings exhibit
- ShareAmerica article: “State Department honors Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Slater as first Hero of U.S. Diplomacy”
Video Archive – Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy Launch Event (09/13/19):